Jesus, I want to be your disciple. I want to follow you. But sometimes, it’s so difficult, and I just don’t understand.
Last week when I preached, I used a simple visual aid. I would like to use it once again this week as our readings are so closely connected to last week’s readings.
(Hold up hinge)
I know it’s not much, but it’s really important. It’s a hinge. Hinges definitely make life better. Hinges connect and enable doors and windows, cabinets and closets to open and close. They really do make life better.
A hinge consists of only three parts. Each are essential yet one holds a special place.
Last week I talked about how this side of the hinge represented the first part of Mark’s gospel were Mark focuses on Jesus: what he did, what he taught and most of all who he is.
The second half of Mark’s gospel focuses on what it means to be a disciple, to be a follower of Jesus and how to align one’s life with Jesus.
That which unites these two elements for Mark is this: (hold up the pin and insert it in the hinge.) This represents the true meaning of Peter’s profession that Jesus is the Messiah. For Jesus, being Messiah are contained in these words: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
If you remember, Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter doesn’t want any part of this. Peter doesn’t want to take up the cross. He and his companions did not yet realize what being a disciple would really mean.
I suggest that in today’s gospel these same elements are presented in a different way.
Jesus and his disciples are once again on the journey, a journey that will eventually lead them to Jerusalem. Along the way though, something happens. The disciples start arguing among themselves.
In Greek, the term “argue” indicates a hostile interaction rather than respectful discussion. This doesn’t get past Jesus. When they get to Capernaum, he asks his disciples, his companions, his closest friends what they are arguing about.
How human the response they give. They were arguing about who is the greatest among them, who is the most important, who should be first, who Jesus likes best, who gets top billing. Oh, how human and how petty.
Our second reading from the letter of James sheds light on this as well. He writes, “Beloved, where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is this disorder and every foul practice.”
Jesus knew he had to challenge them. Jesus knew that their selfish ambition was destructive to their individual soul and was disintegrating his followers both in terms of their collective communion and their individual integrity.
(Hold up the other side of the hinge)
Jesus then sits down, meaning he takes the role of the teacher, and says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then, using a living visual aid, not merely a hinge, he calls a child to himself and puts his arms around the child.
In the societal culture of Jesus’ time, a child had no status and even among some segments of the Roman population, had no value. To make his point clear, Jesus says “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me.”
Jesus’ understanding of his being the Messiah was that of being a servant, of laying down his life, of being reconciliation, of being peace. As St. James says in our second reading: “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy and insincerity.”
(Hold the pin above the hinge)
Both last week and this week Jesus defines his role as Messiah in these terms, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” They did not understand what he told them and they were even more afraid to question him about it.
(Put pin in the hinge)
Jesus is teaching his disciples, teaching us, that to follow him would mean that we must enter into his understanding of the kingdom of God, that greatness comes through serving, laying down one’s life, placing God first, then others and then ourselves last in a spirit of joyful service rather than selfish grasping.
They didn’t get it and they didn’t want to talk about. And if I’m honest with myself, there many times when I don’t want to hear it or talk about it either. I want to turn my back on the cross and not know what the suffering of Jesus has to do with me. I want to be intentionally ignorant. I don’t want to sacrifice, to lay down my life for others, to be servant and last.
That’s why I need to be here, in front of you and with you acknowledging my own weakness, my pettiness, my sin and asking for forgiveness and mercy that only flows from the cross. True life, true meaning, true purpose and true joy ultimately only come from Jesus. That’s why I need Eucharist, Holy Communion, so as to find true communion with you and within myself.
(Hold up hinge. Take out pin. Holding up one side and then the other. Put pin back in)
Jesus’ life, my life and what holds them together: the passion of Jesus. The passion is not meant to be something our Lord experiences as everyone else watches. The passion of Jesus is something we are meant to live out as we follow him in his sacrificial and selfless love for others.
Disciples are people who constantly seek to understand the events of their lives to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here at Saint Michael parish we define this in the six elements of discipleship that are the foundation of who we are and where we are going as a community of faith.
These elements of discipleship: grow, worship, serve, give, connect and share are meant to guide us into being the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. This is not an easy task or one the world looks up to. It is only together, the sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, that we can truly be who you are called to be.